The nonprofit Angels of '97 has raised more than $400,000 and given nearly $275,000 in scholarships to area students since it formed 13 years ago.
Originally created to honor five students from North Mecklenburg High School's 1997 graduating class who died from injuries sustained in car accidents and illness, it now honors 45 students from various area high schools, mainly North Mecklenburg, Hopewell and East Lincoln.
The original "Angels" are Laura Barnette, Travis Childers, Calvin Keziah, Mandi Meador and Kancham Potts.
The group's latest effort is a traveling Wall of Fame, which showcases the 113 recipients of the Angels of '97 Memorial Scholarship. The makeshift wall features photos of each recipient and a short bio with details about where they are now.
The wall of fame gives people a visual representation of how the community's money was used to help students achieve their goals, said Nick Reid, 23, of Huntersville.
"There are a lot of people who apply for it and don't get it and this is a great way to honor all the recipients," he said. "We have a couple students in med school (on the wall), people who are police officers, we have nurses who now work in Charlotte and we have teachers - so it's definitely affecting our community."
The past recipient from Hopewell High School received a $5,000 scholarship and plans to graduate with a biology degree from UNC Charlotte in December.
The group hosts two major fundraisers a year: a spaghetti dinner every March and a golf tournament every September.
With the help of a handful of volunteers, its first spaghetti dinner fundraiser, which was planned as a one-time event, served about 300 people and raised about $5,000.
Since then, the community has rallied around the group, which now raises about $30,000 a year through both of its fundraisers. And event attendance has tripled, organizers said.
"The community has just embraced it so much," said co-founder Sherry Harkey, 50, of Denver. Her daughter, Mandi Meador, is one of the original "Angels."
Stacie Overcash-Ingle, 31, of Huntersville organizes vendors at fundraising events and works with area parents to honor their children if they die before graduating.
"The wall gives people a reason to continue to contribute," she said. "On-the-spot donations are really common because people are so moved at our events."
Jane Bolton, 55, of Huntersville is another co-founder of the group. Her daughter, Laura Barnette, also is one of the original "Angels." Charles Guignard is the other co-founder and brainchild of the group.
"I think (the wall) is a really big hit because people can see where their money is going," Barnette said. "(The community support) is just awesome. It's beyond anything we dreamed of when we started, and it keeps going and going. It's just heartwarming."
The scholarship is only open to students of North Mecklenburg and Hopewell high schools. About 20 students apply for the scholarship each year. A student's grade point average, community involvement and need are considered when deciding who gets scholarships, which range from $1,000 to $5,000.